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Cuomo, de Blasio at odds over funding pre-K

Pre-kindergarten teacher Angela Tirone helps student Jarrell Love,

Pre-kindergarten teacher Angela Tirone helps student Jarrell Love, 4, write a sentence about characters in the book, "The Mitten" at West Hertel Academy in Buffalo. (Jan. 15, 2014) Credit: AP

ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Tuesday proposed that New York become the nation's first big state to offer full-time prekindergarten statewide. But the fight with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio over how to pay for it raged on.

"This year, let's take it another step forward: universal pre-K statewide, period!" Cuomo said in releasing his $1.5 billion, five-year plan to expand prekindergarten.

While calling Cuomo's plan commendable, the mayor questioned whether Cuomo's proposal would fully fund prekindergarten in the city.

De Blasio has made expanding prekindergarten citywide a major campaign promise in 2013 and wants to raise the city income tax on the wealthy to pay for it. That would conflict with Cuomo's 2014 campaign strategy of cutting taxes to address New York's high-tax image.

"It's different than what we intend to do," de Blasio of Cuomo's proposal during a news conference at City Hall. "What we intend to do is create a stable, consistent, reliable funding mechanism for the next five years that will allow us to have full-day pre-K for every child and after-school programs for every middle-school who needs them."

"We have a revenue source available that is reliable," de Blasio said. "I have a mandate from the people to pursue this plan. I'm going to pursue this plan."

The Democratic mayor has supporters in the State Assembly, which is dominated by New York City Democrats.

"The mayor will give all of us guidance," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan). "Sixty-five members of my conference come from the city of New York. They have been briefed by the mayor on it and they will have to make a determination as to whether the money the governor has outlined . . . is sufficient to do it."

Cuomo received support from the state Senate's Republican leader. "Nobody has made the case that you need to raise taxes," said Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). "The economic viability of New York City . . . affects the entire state. It affects the suburbs where I live, and neighboring suburbs, and we want to make sure that New York City doesn't go in the opposite direction and start losing jobs."

Cuomo proposed spending $100 million in the 2014-15 fiscal year with a focus of expanding prekindergarten to the highest-need students, which could direct much of the aid to New York City schools. The aid would increase by at least $100 million in each subsequent school year, Cuomo said.

New York currently offers state funding for voluntary prekindergarten, but only for half-day programs.

The cost of building classrooms has hindered expansion of prekindergarten. But Cuomo is also proposing a $2 billion bond act to pay for improving technology in all schools, which could also fund construction of pre-K classrooms.

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